Previously, SpaceX has demonstrated their capability of launching and deploying satellite constellation networks with the successful completion of the Iridium NEXT constellation. Over the course of little more than a year, SpaceX lofted 66 second NEXT generation satellites to low Earth orbit on 7 Falcon 9 flights out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Now, SpaceX is looking to place their own satellite constellation network into orbit. Unlike the Iridium constellation, SpaceX will attempt to deliver 60 flat-panel design satellites to low Earth orbit with a single Falcon 9 flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This mission will initiate the company’s attempt to blanket the Earth with consistent high speed, broadband satellite internet connection services with their Starlink constellation.
Revealed by Elon Musk prior to launch, the satellites are a flat-panel design which deviate from the initial design of the 2 demonstration “Tintin” satellites that were deployed in early 2018. Although the satellites launching on this Falcon 9 are “production design”, according to company President and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell, they are considered demonstration satellites meant to test deployment procedures and lack integral components necessary for constellation operation such as intersatellite linking. This first batch will serve as data collection for the company and, as Musk stated in a tweet prior to launch, “much will likely go wrong.”
However the launch and deployment pans out, it is still very exciting to see the packed interior of a Falcon 9 fairing consisting of 60 demonstration satellites as Musk displayed on twitter prior to launch.
SpaceX will use the information gathered to adjust, re-visit, and perfect design and deployment processes of their in-house built satellites. Eventually, Musk anticipates as many as 12,000 constellation satellites in orbit to provide internet coverage globally. Shotwell stated that the company is currently slated to begin launching operational batches later this year.
Tune in to watch live launch coverage at the link below.